Kottayam: Personal prestige takes precedence over collective political stakes at the Kottayam Lok Sabha seat where Kerala's longest serving legislator is keen on cementing his political legacy through his son.
Stakes are high for 81-year-old Finance Minister K M Mani, who knows that with age catching up and his health failing, it is imperative for him to ensure that his son Jose K. Mani wins the elections at any cost.
Mani junior is contesting on behalf of Kerala Congress (Mani), the third biggest party in the ruling Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) government. It is the only Lok Sabha seat the party is contesting.
Opposing him is former state minister and legislator Mathew T. Thomas from the Janata Dal-Secular, an ally of the CPI-M's Left Democratic Front (LDF).
Thomas represents Thiruvalla in the state assembly. Unlike Mani, he is a rank outsider to the constituency, which means he would have to put in that extra effort to reach out to the electorate.
While family legacy ensured Mani Junior his ticket, for Thomas it took a twist of fate and some hard-ball negotiation by his party the CPI-M, the big brother in the LDF coalition.
The CPI-M initially was not too pleased with Thomas, who went public that his party has to be given the seat. The former had already announced its candidate and he had started his election campaign.
But after the Revolutionary Socialist Party, an ally for more than three decades, walked out of the LDF over differences in seat sharing arrangements, the JD-S knew it was time to strike.
And they struck hard, forcing the CPI-M to withdraw its candidate.
Some days later, the JD-S projected a somewhat reluctant Thomas as its man for the Lok Sabha polls from Kottayam.
By then Mani had already had a headstart over his opponent. He was off the blocks first on the campaign trail. He also showcases what he said were his achievements in his last stint as MP.
Both Thomas and Mani are soft spoken in their approach and have a pleasing personality but are now engaged in a bitter political battle in which none wants to finish second.
In 2011, the UDF bagged five of the seven assembly constituencies that form the Kottayam Lok Sabha constituency.
This could well be the USP for Mani.
The Left claims that Mani, a master politician, has built bridges with the BJP and there could well be a deal between them. Both parties have denied the charge.
To Thomas' credit is his stint as transport minister (2006-09) in the V.S. Achuthanandan government and the work he did. He expects his clean image also to come to his aid.
Thomas is also hoping against hope that strong undercurrents prevailing in Mani's party could be the ace-in-the-hole for him.